After nearly four years of hard work and growth, and nearly nine months of heartache after the loss of his uncle, Ted Christopher, Friday night was the night Mike Christopher, Jr. had dreamed of for so long. Mike Christopher Jr. finally won an SK Modified race at Stafford Motor Speedway.
But it was also a hard fought win, with the 19-year-old second generation driver going bumper-to-bumper and wheel-to-wheel against one of Connecticut’s best, Ryan Preece, all while driving Ted’s race winning car.
In victory lane, the emotions caught up with Christopher, Jr. during his post-race interview.
After hugging, thanking, and taking pictures with family and lots of friends, plus an opportunity to collect his thoughts, Christopher, Jr. took some time to reflect on the whirlwind evening. One person especially on his mind, especially close to Father’s Day; his father and Ted’s twin brother, Mike Christopher Sr.
An accomplished driver and three-time Stafford SK champion himself, Mike Sr. has spent the last several years helping and teaching Mike Jr. during his rise through the CT short track ranks.
“He was really excited when we crossed the finish line. I knew it was going to be emotional for him too because of the whole situation. It meant a lot to see him when I got down to victory lane and see how happy he was and all the emotion that poured through him. It was good. I knew it was going to be hectic in victory lane. Lots of people came to congratulate me and I appreciate that. Finally, it took four years.”
Through all the work, turmoil, and close calls, Christopher had never doubted that he would see victory lane this season, especially with the car he had underneath him.
He was especially proud to be able to bring home a trophy to his car owner and aunt, Quinn Christopher.
“It means a lot. I knew it was going to happen, just a matter of time, and tonight it happened. To put it into victory lane for Aunty Quinn, she came last week, she definitely would have wanted to be here tonight. It means a lot for all of us, Aunty Quinn, me, my dad, and my mom. This whole family deal it means a lot.”
Equally as tremendous as the celebration in victory lane was the 40-lap race itself with Christopher taking the lead from Tyler Hines in the early stages. A yellow flag just two laps later bunched the field up, allowing Ryan Preece, who had started in the back half of the 24 SK Modified field, to catch the lead cars and climb to second by halfway.
Christopher drove his usual line, despite Preece hassling him for a number of laps. Another yellow allowed Preece to cool his tires and regroup, with the 2011 Stafford SK champion diving past Christopher for the lead. Despite this setback, Christopher knew he was far from done, eventually mounting his own counterattack with five laps to go.
“I didn’t really think it was over when he passed me. This car when it’s by itself out front, I don’t know what it is, but the car gets tight. When Ryan passed me and I saw that I was catching him and where I was better than him, I knew that I had a shot to win this race, and that I had to do it in turn three, the signature move.”
A final yellow flew with two to go, keeping Preece in the game, and setting up a green-white-checkered restart. It was at this time that Christopher finally decided to take a more defensive line.
Having held Preece off, Christopher immediately recognized the scope of who he had just beaten.
“I knew I had to protect because Ryan had a good car and he shows up here to win, s*** he’s an Xfinity winner, twice. I know he has the talent to get by me. Coming down to that last lap it was defense. I don’t know if I had to block like that, but I prevailed, it is what it is. It means a lot because of his success in the top levels of NASCAR. It’s pretty damn cool.”
As for the future, Christopher feels that he will now have an easier time seeing more checkered flags out his windshield now that he has his first win in hand.
“I knew it was going to come because we’ve had a really good car all year, and now that I did, I think that hopefully it will be easier from here, the first one is always the hardest. People tell me it’s easier from here. I hope they’re all right.”
Following another 40-lap show next Friday, the teams of the Stafford SK Modifieds will gear up for their annual marquee race, the 100-lap, $5,000-to-win NAPA SK 5K on Friday, June 29.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com